Recently, someone really close to me shared an article with me. The article authored by Briallen Hopper based at Yale University is titled Relying on Friendship in a World Made for Couples. The article discusses the difficulties of chronically single individuals, including but not limited to aromantics. It really caught my attention and resonated with me because it raised five key questions I have for people I love.
1. Why do I always come last in your life?
Although relationship anarchy can sound violent, it is quite the opposite! It is a philosophy of love where each individual is not bound by social expectations or rules in how they choose to approach and pursue various relationships. By removing hierarchies and labels, we are free to build deep and meaningful emotionally salient bonds with a wide diversity of people we love. Hopper (2016) noticed that people around her systematically put friends last. I personally think it should depend. It depends on so many factors (e.g. Does this person really need help right now? Is our relationship mutually beneficial? What are my other commitments? etc.). Unfortunately, the reality is that most people have a pre-determined order of care and that friends nearly always come after romantic partners.
In her life, a kid thing would always trump a partner thing; a work thing would always trump a friend thing. This was the best way she knew of trying to impose some order on life’s complexity, but to me it seemed like a terribly reductive way to think about human relationships.
2. Why do you not only refuse to fight for me, but also find it bizarre that I do for you?
Because I regularly get abandoned by people I care about and love when they find a romantic relationship to replace our friendship with, I sometimes feel intense anxiety. What I mean is that I tend to work really hard to actively develop a funnel of new potential friends so that I don’t end up isolated as more and more of my current friends abandon me. In addition to that, I put a lot of work into maintaining my relationships. I allocate time to spend with people I care about, I make sure to communicate with them regularly, I make an effort to listen to what they say, remember their stories, learn more about their field of work and things they are interested in, etc. More than once, I have been told by my friends that such practices were really bizarre and that “I was trying too hard”. Is there such a thing though? Can you try too hard to be a good friend? I don’t know…
I think it’s this layering of love and anxiety that motivates me to celebrate my friendships with such fervor: because I know they are fragile as well as durable.
3. Why can’t you see how special our bond is?
When you think about it, friendships are very special, unique and powerful bonds. As the author put it, it’s one of the few meaningful relationships in our lives that we actually choose and that never feel stuck in. In other words, friendships rarely come with children, a mortgage, religious vows, etc. (although they can). This means that you are choosing to keep your friends in your life every day without too much pressure from society and existing commitments. You also tend to have a lot in common with friends and share interests, which is not always the case with family members or coworkers.
Friendship is the most underrated relationship in our lives … It remains the one relation not bound by law, blood, or money — but an unspoken agreement of love.
4. Why can’t you say you love me (anymore)?
Sometimes I become close enough to some of my friends that, over time, they will start to say “I love you” back. Of course, I can tell that they find it incredibly bizarre and inappropriate, but they do it anyway for two reasons 1) they actually love me 2) they want to please me. Unfortutanely, even when I can reach that milestone, it is usually taken away from me as these individuals find romantic partners. Then, they can somehow only love one person. Can you imagine living your life without having someone close to you to tell you they love you? I can definitely picture myself in that situation one day. No matter how hard I try, others continue to minimize my emotionally salient bonds.
It’s hard and scary to go through life knowing that your most important relationships are chronically underrated and legally nonexistent.
5. Why do you see me as disposable?
I have to go through life constantly feeling disposable. Let this sink in for a minute. As a human being, I feel disposable. People I love don’t act like they care about me. They will easily cancel our plans or reschedule them, because we are only friends after all. As I previously mentioned, I also constantly get abandoned by people I love who replace me by a romantic partner. I have found that not only do they see this practice as acceptable, they are also expecting me to celebrate it. Obviously, I do not. It is frustrating and sad to hold people very close to your heart and see them as an essential part of your life when in return they see you as a fun extracuricular…
It’s doubly difficult when your time with friends is seen as a fun extracurricular instead of a basic human need.